LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust: Misinformation about the River Club must stop
Articles on the River Club development in Cape Town in Daily Maverick spread misinformation about the project despite the authors’ claims having repeatedly been debunked by expert reports and the competent authorities in the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Government, a River Club spokesperson argues.
Jody Aufrichtig is Trustee representative of the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT).
Anyone who has read the three latest articles published on the Daily Maverick website about the River Club redevelopment in Observatory will be forgiven for thinking the conversation has become monotonous.
This is because the authors of the articles namely, Jens Horber, Pregs Govender and Trevor Sacks have said nothing new. Instead, it is clear that they are nothing more than mouthpieces for a small group of activists who have opposed the development from the outset.
This group continues to spread misinformation about the project despite their claims having repeatedly been debunked by expert reports and the competent authorities in the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Government.
Firstly, all three authors quote from the appeal by the City’s Environmental Management Department against the environmental authorisation that was granted for the redevelopment by the Western Cape government at the end of last year. In doing so they disingenuously imply that because there was some disagreement among government departments the approval process was flawed.
However, approval processes for large developments are complex involving a number of commenting parties. This is why the final decision-makers, in this case the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning and the City of Cape Town’s Municipal Planning Tribunal, are required to consider all comments and then make a final decision on whether to authorise a development application or not.
This is exactly what happened with the River Club redevelopment, where interested and affected parties were given the opportunity to voice their objections in the development planning approval process. All of these were comprehensively responded to by the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT), its consultants, and the independent environmental practitioner, with analyses of the independent expert reports. This included detailed responses to issues raised by the City’s Environmental Management department, which were considered by the appeal authority that provided extensive reasons for why it dismissed the department’s appeal.
Following the finalisation of the appeal processes, the City’s Environmental Management Department has shown its support for the detailed planning process and shown its cooperation with the City’s Planning Department on the subsequent planning processes to comply with the conditions of approval.
To cite prior comments provided by commenting bodies during the public participation process, and then not provide the final outcome of these, is intentionally misleading the public, with snippets of selective quoting out of context.
The authors also present an online petition that has been sent around by the group of activists as proof that there is widespread public opposition to the development.
However, under our planning, environmental and administrative laws, petitions of this nature hold no weight and are completely disregarded by the authorities and the courts. This is because petitioners can state whatever they want in a petition without it being factually correct and the anonymous and uninformed can simply click on the support button on the site, without any consideration of the actual application’s content or the expert reports.
This is exactly the case when it comes to the online petition cited by the authors, which is simply part of the false narrative that is being generated by those that are unhappy that their objections were considered but validly dismissed by the competent authorities.
The most blatant piece of misinformation in the three articles is also the most deeply offensive, namely the authors’ claims that the planned River Club redevelopment ignores the rich heritage and spiritual significance of the site. This is because they are willfully ignoring the wishes of the majority of First Nations leaders in the Peninsula, known as the First Nations Collective, who vociferously support the River Club redevelopment.
The First Nations Collective include the First Nations tribes that existed as the very first, indigenous people in the area including the Gorinhaiqua, Gorachouqua, Cochoqua, Korana, Griqua Royal Houses and the San Royal House of Nǀǀnǂe. The First Nations leadership involved in the processes to date includes Kai Bi’a Hennie van Wyk and Queen Katrina Esau, whose credentials as First Nations icons and leaders are irrefutable. It is therefore insulting that they are dismissed as “certain leaders” in Mr Hober’s article.
While the authors have tried to insinuate that there is a split among the First Nations, only the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Traditional Council objected to the redevelopment throughout the legislated process. This group is unusually arranged, for example, one of its leaders, Mr Tauriq Jenkins’ title of “Supreme High Commissioner” does not exist in traditional First Nations leadership structures. Notably, he is also an executive member of the Observatory Civic Association (and its prior chairperson), the main body opposed to the redevelopment and hence the First Nation Collective have argued that this is a serious conflict of interest.
The articles also repeat false claims regarding the national and provincial heritage status of the site. The facts are as follows: requests were made to the provincial and national heritage authorities by the very same OCA and Mr Jenkins calling for this status, which has not been backed by any expert reports. Heritage Western Cape (HWC) recently met and made the decision not to accept the nomination for the area to be declared a provincial heritage site.
The South Africa Heritage Resources Agency has also publicly stated that it has not begun processing the request (again by OCA and Mr Jenkins) that it investigate the site for national heritage status, one of the reasons being that there was missing information that was required from the applicants.
The OCA and Mr Jenkins have also on repeated occasions suggested that the site is touted for Unesco World Heritage protection. This is simply not the case, which can easily have been verified by investigating the official Unesco World Heritage website. Any consideration by the Unesco committee goes through a very rigorous process. And a request to investigate can only be made at state level, by a member state, not other bodies or individuals.
In 2009, a list of properties was put forward to Unesco as tentative Liberation Routes. The Two Rivers Urban Park area did not appear on this list or on the latest tentative list of properties that may be nominated for Unesco World Heritage status in the future.
Furthermore, yes, Mr Horber and Ms Govender are correct, the national government has begun a process to investigate the identification of the two rivers broader area as part of the Khoisan Legacy Project and the National Liberation Heritage Route. Notably, two members of the First Nations Collective were recently appointed by the National Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture to a steering committee to drive this initiative forward. We welcome this as the redevelopment of the River Club and river affronting will make this part of the route safe and accessible for the public.
Finally, all three authors make false claims when it comes to the environmental impact of the redevelopment. The fact is that most of the vegetation on the site and adjacent river channels is alien and a large proportion of the site is polluted.
That is why R50-million is going to be spent on rehabilitating the area, specifically to improve biodiversity functioning. The result will be a substantially more naturalised river channel, rehabilitated wetlands and the creation of optimal habitat including pools for breeding of the endangered and endemic Western Leopard Toad and other indigenous fauna and birds. Once rehabilitated it will represent the type of habitat found in this area prior to urban development in the first half of the 20th century. These areas will also be nested in parklands that will be publicly accessible including, 6km of walking, running, cycling, playing and seating areas.
It is unfortunate that a small but vocal group of activists who are unhappy that their opinions were validly dismissed by the competent authorities are trying to discredit the River Club project and those who support it. It is also unfortunate that they continue to seek to misinform the public on the basis of these grievances.
The Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust remains committed to delivering the world-class development that will celebrate the intangible heritage associated with the broader area, of which the privately-owned River Club site forms a small part, and will provide a range of socio-economic benefits to surrounding communities including developer-subsidised inclusive housing, publicly accessible green spaces as well as critical construction jobs followed by long term employment, at a time when our economy needs it most. DM